I started training in martial arts when I was eight years old. My motivation ... The Ninja Turtles! When I first started there was so much that offended my young Saturday-morning-cartoons sensibilities. I had wanted to be a ninja master after my first lesson, spinning a bo staff above my head, able to take on anyone who would challenge me. Instead, I had to learn the proper way to bow when entering the room. I had to learn how to say “sir” before and after every reply to my instructor. I was forced to do pushups, situps, pullups and all the other painful “ups”.
Needless to say, I was not impressed. That is until I received my first award. After several weeks of training, my Instructor called me to the front of the room. He took hold of my very white belt and wrapped a simple black stripe around the end - an accommodation for having learned the first several techniques.
I couldn’t tell you why, but I was ecstatic. A huge smile beaming across my face, I bowed proudly to my instructor, hurried back to my place in line and kept looking down, unable to take my eyes off the belt now. Before it had been something I resented, but now I folded the belt neatly and placed it on my dresser so I could look at it as I passed by. I made sure to remind my mother to wash my uniform before each class. I bowed with purpose each time I entered the training area. I began punching stronger and kicking faster. Now, contrary to my initial attitude, I wanted my conduct to be worthy of that stripe.
In Philippians 1:27 Paul tries to communicate something similar about the Christian’s conduct.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ ...” (Philippians 1:27)
Do you feel the weight of that command? First notice that this isn’t a single shot, one time action. Paul is telling us to augment our entire lives, to change the way we live. But, it goes even deeper than that. The phrase “let your manner of life be” is actually one very complex word in Greek: politeuo. It is a word that comes from the noun polis, meaning city. In Paul’s time citizenship carried with it a much greater responsibility than it does today. To be a citizen of a city-state meant you represented that state in your actions, your words and your beliefs. In our day, one can be a citizen of a state without even knowing its capital. One can be a citizen of a country without ever participating in its government. But in Paul’s time those things were expected and even commanded; the polis was one’s life.
Of course, Paul has his mind set on things above. He is not thinking that his readers belong to any physical city, but that they belong to eachother to the church, and their citizenship is in heaven. And it is the gospel which has redeemed those people and formed a church. The gospel has brought together the Jew and the Greek. And how is it that our conduct will be worthy of this gospel? The answer lies in the following verses.
“... so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” (Philippians 1:27b-28a)
Notice what marks those whose conduct is worthy of the gospel. First, they are unified with the body. Are you in unity with your local church? Do you stand behind your pastor and elders and lift them up in prayer? Do you work hard to see that the visions of your church are realized? So often people make church about themselves. If a new program, teaching series or ministry opportunity is not something that helps them immediately or is in anyway inconvenient or uncomfortable, then they’ll choose to stay home that week. But, your church cannot be unified if you’re not there. Unity does not simply mean “believing the same thing”. Unity means worshipping together, praying together, doing ministry together and striving together.
But striving towards what? Paul says we should be striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Though, fighting side by side may actually be a better understanding of the Greek word he is using, especially since he points out that we should not be frightened by our opponents.
And here lies the true test of our conduct. As saved individuals and as local bodies of believers we should be fighting for people to know and believe the truth. Keep in mind that the sword has no place in the gospel, and people are saved by grace through faith, not by coercion and force. Those things considered, who are you talking to about Jesus? Who are you discipling? Is it hard? It’s supposed to be! It’s a fight we are in after all, and our opponents are very real. But, so is our God ... and he always wins.
It was just a piece of tape wrapped around the end of my belt. It was worth nothing, but to my young eight year old mind it represented everything. The gospel, wrapped around our hearts, is of such a greater value. Do we live worthy of it?